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Harvey, Henry James (Harry) (1901–1966)

by Tim Moroney

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Henry James (Harry) Harvey (1901-1966), trade unionist and industrial commissioner, was born on 19 November 1901 in South Brisbane, son of Peter James Harvey, fireman, and his wife Elizabeth Teresa, née O'Toole, both Queensland born. Educated at West End State School, he joined the Department of Lands as a cadet clerk on 13 December 1915 and attended night-classes. From an early age, he had been aware of the labour movement through his father's union activities. After leaving the public service in February 1920, Harry was periodically unemployed; following a brief stint as a hairdresser, he worked as a stoker at the Murrarie meatworks. He joined the Federated Engine Drivers and Firemen's Association of Australasia, rapidly rising to president (1922) of its Brisbane sub-branch. In 1923-33 he was caretaker of the Brisbane Trades Hall where he also served as librarian (until 1935). At St Francis's Catholic Church, West End, on 18 January 1930 he had married Wilhelmina Rowe, a tailoress.

In 1935 Harvey was elected secretary of the Queensland Trades and Labor Council. His activities at Trades Hall involved him with the Federated Miscellaneous Workers' Union and in August 1938 he resigned his T.L.C. post to become secretary of the F.M.W.U. In this capacity he represented a wide variety of occupations, including caretakers, cleaners, messengers, lift-attendants, watchmen, gatekeepers, greenkeepers and even billposters. He was by then identified as a moderate union leader, which assisted his election as T.L.C. president in July 1939, when he won by a record majority against the communist candidate E. J. Hanson. By the time he resigned in 1948 to concentrate on F.M.W.U. duties, communist officials dominated the Brisbane T.L.C. Aligned with the Australian Labor Party, Harvey felt that he lacked support from certain moderate trade unions in the fight against communist control. During World War II ill health precluded him from serving with the armed forces, but he was energetically involved in wartime civil service. In May 1942 he was appointed to the trade union advisory panel of the Federal Manpower Committee. That year he became an air-raid warden. He was a member (1943-45) of the royal commission which recommended the establishment of a central authority to control the production and marketing of fruit and vegetables in the State.

Harvey had been the F.M.W.U. delegate to the Queensland central executive of the A.L.P. in 1928-35. He was a member (1947-49) and vice-president (1948-49) of the party's executive-committee. From 1935 he moved towards the politics of moderation. At the 1932 Labor Convention he had insisted that a Labor government should legislate directly on behalf of workers. In 1947 it was his amendment of a similarly contentious motion which defused a potential clash between the industrial and political wings of the party. Although he planned to enter Federal parliament, he withdrew his nomination for the seat of Bowman in 1949 due to 'health reasons'. He was a long-time friend of Premier Ned Hanlon who, in November, appointed him a commissioner of the Industrial Court of Queensland. On the bench Harvey's negotiating skills came to the fore. Whether the dispute involved rail, sugar, transport or electricity workers, he won considerable praise from all sections of the industrial community and the media for his patience and consultative abilities. He was adept at operating behind the industrial and political scenes. Assigned to the northern circuit, he handled three major disputes at Mount Isa mines in 1959, 1961 and 1964-65. The last-mentioned strike—a bitter, divisive battle that lasted eight months—tested his conciliatory skills and took its toll on his health.

A short, thickset man, Harvey was not rancorous by nature; his life revolved around his work and his family. He was a member of the (Royal) Brisbane and South Coast hospitals board, and of the senate (1944-52) of the University of Queensland. He also contributed articles to newspapers, and took part in debates on radio and television. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died of myocardial infarction on 7 June 1966 in Royal Brisbane Hospital and was buried in Toowong cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Lack (compiler), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • G. Sheldon, Industrial Siege (Melb, 1965)
  • D. J. Murphy (ed), Labor in Power (Brisb, 1980)
  • D. J. Murphy (ed), The Big Strikes (Brisb, 1983)
  • P. Mackie and E. Vassilieff, Mount Isa (Melb, 1989)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 23 Mar, 6, 13 Apr, 9 May 1949
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 9 June 1955
  • Trades and Labor Council of Queensland, Executive Minutes, 1932-38 (University of Queensland Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

Tim Moroney, 'Harvey, Henry James (Harry) (1901–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/harvey-henry-james-harry-10450/text18533, accessed 23 November 2017.

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